Opinion: Why Europe’s Drinking Age is Lower than the U.S.’s

Franny McKernon

Assistant Opinion Editor

Europe, the land of parties, smoking, being sexy, beautiful architecture, and, of course, alcohol, has long reigned as a popular destination to study among students. The continent’s dense history provides lots of places to explore and cultures to appreciate, unlike the United States’ own brief 241 year history.

Europe’s small size is just one of the many factors that contributes to its lower drinking age. For comparison, the state of Texas can fit almost all of Europe in its boundaries. While the size of a continent may seem trivial, it ultimately affects how Europeans travel. In my travels to Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Belgium, I have found that most Europeans use public methods of transportation including subway, bus, trains, and walking, to get anywhere they need to go. Driving, similar to conditions in New York, is not always economically intelligent, nor time efficient in heavy traffic. However, the United States is so large that we Americans need to drive everywhere, since locations are not condensed (with the exception of huge cities like NYC or Chicago).

Since Americans can’t go many places without a car, it seems to be a right of passage to start driving at 16 in the U.S. In Europe though, driving isn’t necessarily as important, and hence the legal driving age is 18 without adult supervision. I was shocked to learn that at the age Americans can vote, Europeans are just starting to drive. It definitely was one of the bigger culture shocks I had upon arriving in Belgium.

Historically, as more American teenagers started driving, the drinking age, then 18, became a problem since drunk driving incidents and crashes increased. Congress, under Ronald Reagan, passed the national minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984. It technically didn’t outlaw drinking for those under 21, but raised the age to 21 for purchasing and possessing alcohol. If the states didn’t comply, they would lose 10 percent of federal funding for highways. Of course, all states eventually complied and thus the drinking age was raised to 21. After this law was enacted, alcohol related car accidents did decrease.

I personally agree with my 11th grade history professor who said, “if you can be drafted and die for your country, you should be able to have a beer.”

Being in Europe was culturally a shock, because convenience stores don’t ID, compared to the US where the fake ID industry thrives. I was able to walk into a store and buy an entire bottle of vodka with no questions asked. That’s why I think Europeans party responsibly, because alcohol isn’t this godly drink that no one can legally have until 21. Europeans grow up with it, so the stigma around it isn’t as great. They also drink to enjoy the drink more than Americans that just “chug” alcohol to get drunk.

The biggest difference is that since the drinking age is 18, the university I attend promotes events that include alcohol. Even if the drinking age was 18 in the US, I don’t think we culturally would be that comfortable around alcohol. But until then, I will be happily drinking until my return to the States.

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